‘Stand your ground’ not a good fix, Holder says
ORLANDO, Fla. — Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. strongly condemned “stand your ground” laws on Tuesday, saying the measures “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense” and may encourage “violent situations to escalate.”
On the books in more than 30 states, the statutes have become a focal point of a complicated national debate over race, crime and culpability as a result of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. The volunteer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder charges on Saturday.
Zimmerman did not cite Florida’s “stand your ground” law — which says people who feel threatened can defend themselves with deadly force — in his trial defense. Still, the instructions given to the jury said that as long as Zimmerman was not involved in an illegal activity and had a right to be where he was when the shooting occurred, “he had no duty to retreat and the right to stand his ground.”
“These laws try to fix something that was never broken,” Holder told delegates of the annual convention of the NAACP, which is pressing him to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. “The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent.”
Holder, who is the nation’s first black attorney general and serves under the first black president, drew discomfiting parallels between his own life and the claims of many here that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, who is black.
Holder recalled being pulled over twice by police on the New Jersey Turnpike as a young man, and having his car searched, “when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding.” Another time, he said, he was stopped by law enforcement in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood while simply running to catch a movie after dark.
“I was, at the time of that last incident, a federal prosecutor,” Holder said drily, prompting some in the audience at the Orlando Convention Center to gasp in disgust and others to shake their heads.